By Joseph Mailander, Contributing Writer
Election week in early April in Sunland-Tujunga was a week of oddities—and a week of shame for the foothills.
Two days before the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) election, a top candidate for president, an Armenian-American who led a slate of candidates for community offices, was taken to a jail cell in Van Nuys. His place of business had been raided that day by the LAPD.
The candidate, Arnie Abramyan, made bail early the next morning, went to breakfast, and pronounced the criminal charges ridiculous.
Community activists favoring Abramyan’s top rival, local actor and STNC board member Krystee Clark—who also led a slate of candidates (with “proven experience”)—posted the documents surrounding the charges to Facebook within minutes of his release.
Anti-Armenian sentiment, which had expressed itself early in the campaign, rose to a fever pitch on election night as accusations of bus or vanloads of Armenian nonresidents filled social media.
The first certification of the election was inconclusive in one race: for secretary. Provisional votes remained to be counted; anecdotal evidence told that most of the provisional votes were cast by citizens “voting while Armenian.”
Then, as the proceedings left the foothills for Los Angeles City Hall, things got weirder still.
On Monday morning at City Hall, the recounting of select races indicated that the race for STNC president was closer than first tallied, and well within provisional range.
At least one candidate on Clark’s slate, David Barron, confessed to being surprised to find himself listed as part of that slate. He says he made no overture toward the slate and could only guess who added him to it.
Meanwhile, LA’s Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC) hastily cobbled together and passed a resolution requiring all neighborhood councils to maintain minutes of their meetings. This is something BONC commissioner Lydia Grant’s own neighborhood council in Sunland-Tujunga hasn’t been very good at, despite spending tens of thousands of dollars on temporary workers who were sometimes paid to do this very thing. (The Foothill Record put in three requests for minutes from board meetings of the last two years but received no response to the requests.)
Finally, the election was certified by the City Clerk, with one outcome reversal of Saturday’s vote tally and lots of movement toward candidates of Abramyan’s slate, Moving Sunland-Tujunga Forward, in other races. The certification itself was later challenged.
Everyone to whom you tell this story asks the same thing: What on Earth is all this fuss about? What were the actual issues involving these slates, anyway?
Though many candidates bring many different points of view on many issues, the two neighborhood slates turned generally on two opposing points of view involving the two top issues in the foothills: housing tract development and entrenched homelessness.
The Clark slate is generally against housing tract development and generally supportive of the city’s efforts to bring permanent supportive housing complexes to the foothills. There were notable dissenters on the latter point, including Barron. But Clark herself was the interviewer a few years ago in an apparent promotional film for the permanent supportive housing complex on Day Street in Tujunga, run by LA Family Housing (LAFH).
The Forward slate was less vocal about opposing housing tract development, but was generally more adamantly against bringing more permanent supportive housing to the foothills.
That the Forward slate encountered fierce opposition was not a surprise, as many elected officials in the City of LA itself are deeply invested in permanent supportive housing. Indeed, Clark emphasized her allegiance and ties to City Hall, posting photos of herself to social media, standing with LA mayor Eric Garcetti.
But the Forward slate’s encountering so much anti-Armenian sentiment in the community did indeed disturb many of its members, and the City of LA as well.
“During this election process, the level of anti-Armenian sentiment absolutely surprised me,” said Eve Sinclair, one of a handful of successful candidates on the Forward slate. “One of our very first social media posts was greeted tersely with a comment containing only the hashtag ‘#f–kingarmos’; it was deleted shortly after, presumably by the admin, but the trend continued from there. Our Facebook posts, candidate bios, and even outreach posts for community events and spaces were continually met with ‘jokes’ about drag racing and hookah lounges and even more hostile and blatant comments alleging outright voter fraud, posts about ‘-ian’ culture, and posts peppered with the word ‘they’, indicating an ‘us vs them’ mentality.”
Local elected officials and city representatives also registered their concern.
“I represented Sunland-Tujunga when I was first elected to the [LA] City Council and I still know many wonderful people who live there,” LA city councilman Paul Krekorian told The Foothill Record.
“Hateful comments that target a whole group of people aren’t at all representative of the community. Sunland-Tujunga is a diverse part of Los Angeles with a rich history of civic involvement and neighborhood partnership and pride,” Krekorian continued. “Bigoted rhetoric has no place there or anywhere else in the city, and I’m confident that the residents will reject any attempts to divide the community.”
The anti-Armenian tinges of the final week of the race proved a distraction from the larger issues of what to do about development and the homeless. But Clark’s supporters, from whom much of the Armenian-bashing originated, have also, with Clark herself, been community advocates of a stay-the-course approach to addressing the homeless problem through expressing confidence in the local Homeless Working Group and LAFH.
Permanent supportive housing complexes such as the one LAFH built on Day Street can be financed by a mix of city funds and low-income-housing tax-credit instruments—investments offered to corporations and fund managers to offset corporate taxes. Thus, when issuing tax credits to corporations, money that would ordinarily help the poor never makes it to government coffers for disbursement. Of course, the money doesn’t go to the homeless either. Instead, the big money in permanent supportive housing goes to developers, contractors, building suppliers, and administrators.
While local politicians and high-salaried agency developers have successfully monetized the bulk of available federal and state homeless assistance, devoting all the resources to their own agencies, staffers, and their contractors and building suppliers—and precious little directly to the homeless themselves—we now have abundant data on just how effective permanent supportive housing actually is.
At the human level, we see not only more, and more truly problematic, transients in neighborhoods where such housing is built from the ground up. But more shockingly, we have also more recently seen four transient-involved homicides in the City of LA in the past six months, including two in Downtown Los Angeles, one in North Hollywood, and one at the encampment in the Tujunga wash.
All of these neighborhoods already have costly permanent-supportive housing facilities, but tragedies continue to unfold in these communities at an accelerating rate. Yet politicians and developers are still calling to build more permanent supportive housing facilities.
While the unfortunate instances of the anti-Armenian expressions in the foothills need remedy, the bashing also provides a distraction from the real threat that the Forward slate posed to City Hall in its general opposition to the broadening of permanent supportive housing efforts in the foothills. The task of the community in coming weeks will be not only to address concerns regarding the homeless situation but also to remedy the open wounds left from the racist incidents.